Welcome back to the “Our Italians” series of interviews that focuses on food artisans, experts and producers in Italy or abroad. These passionate individuals are committed to sharing the best in Italian food, wine and traditional products, through family-owned businesses and small scale enterprises, and we’re here to introduce them to you. Today we meet author and illustrator of “Zaza’s Perfect Pie,” Elana Iaciofano.
Elana has worked as a graphic designer, a food stylist and photographer, a recipe developer, and also as head pizzaiola of her traveling pizza cooking school. We had the opportunity to talk with Elana and learn about her new project- “Zaza’s Perfect Pie.”
Casa Mia: Can you tell us a little bit about “Zaza’s Perfect Pie?”
Elana Iaciofano: Zaza’s Perfect Pie is the story of a girl, Zaza, who is so in love with pizza that she wants to make The Perfect Pie. She tries various creative and ridiculous ways to achieve her goal, accompanied by her small, canine companion, Pecorino (who is named after her favorite cheese). This story follows their adventures in the kitchen and out, and offers recipes, pizza tips and activities. It’s one part children’s story, one part cookbook and all fun.
CM: Can you tell us about yourself and your background, specifically your experience in the culinary world and as a food educator?
EI: I began as a graphic designer, and gradually entered the food design world through a blog my brother and I started called “John and Elana Talk About Food.” Gradually, I started to get food photography, styling and recipe writing jobs. I’ve traveled and taught classes from my mobile artisanal cooking school, I’ve seen both adults and children experiment with ingredients and cooking techniques, pushing themselves outside their comfort zones with pizza as the catalyst. By infusing fun and art into the cooking process, pizza AND Zaza help to unleash a willingness to try new things and go from “yuck!” to “maybe yum…?” at the thought of more untraditional toppings. The more I saw the transformative power of pizza, the more convinced I became that I needed to help Zaza reach more kids and their parents.
CM: What’s the most fun part of your job?
EI: Teaching is a ton of fun for me because I get immediate feedback from my students. They’ll tell that my pizza is the best pizza they’ve ever had. That’s pretty amazing! I also love the drawing and photography. It activates a different part of my creative brain, so I feel like I cover all the bases, creatively speaking.
CM: Why pizza? What got you interested in it?
EI: I love the simplicity of pizza, and its history. I love that you can use it as creative canvas to learn how to cook more complicated dishes. It’s not intimidating, and everyone seems to love it. I think that when you are encouraging people to do something “scary,” like cooking, you can ease them into it with something familiar and fun like pizza.
CM: What inspired “Zaza’s Perfect Pie?”
EI: My pizza classes inspired Zaza. I had one small boy, around 10 years old in my first pizza class. He was the best student! He wanted to do everything perfectly, and made it a point to show me his perfectly round pizza that he made. I loved how excited he was and I thought that if this kid really liked it, others would too.
CM: What do you hope “Zaza’s Perfect Pie” instills in kids?
EI: I hope Zaza instills a sense of adventure and creativity both in the kitchen and out. Zaza is all about curiosity. She aims for perfection, but goes about it in completely imperfect ways. What Zaza really craves is the adventure and experience of a “project”, not necessarily a “perfect” result.
CM: Do you have any favorite memories or stories from sharing Zaza with people through your work?
EI: One of my favorite memories from sharing Zaza is when I was on vacation with a friend who had twins, aged 10. We were at the beach and it was pouring rain. So I pulled out my sketchbook and started to draw Zaza. The twins, and their friends, jumped in and watched me draw her for two whole hours, all the while offering me suggestions as to what the drawing should include. “Put a tomato there!” they’d shout, or “Make the dog do this!” By the end of the session, I had my favorite Zaza drawing to date. And every morning after that, the kids would ask when I was going to draw her. None of them checked their cell phones (they all had them), or did anything else while I was drawing for them.
CM: Do you have an all time favorite pizza topping combination?
EI: Sliced pear, gorgonzola cheese, a drizzle of honey and rosemary.
CM: Sounds good. Pecorino or parmigiano?
EI: PECORINO! Obviously.
CM: After “Zaza’s Perfect Pie,” what’s next?<
EI: I’d like Zaza to travel, with Pecorino and on her bike, to the next pizza destination… perhaps Italy! I want to continue her explorations in the culinary world. Maybe even cook up animated, kid-friendly, Zaza-Bourdain-esque travel and food series!
CM: We love Zaza! What can we do to support this project?
EI: Donate, tweet, instagram, share to social networks, tell the mailman, tell the mailman’s mailman about Zaza!
You can donate here:
CM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
EI: Yes, I truly love this character and this project. She brings me such joy, and I am honestly hoping that kids and families will love her as much as I do… and I am just delusional enough to believe they will.
Julia Terranova is a Brooklyn born, Italian-American student with a love of Rome and all things Italy. She spends her time cooking for friends and reading as many cookbooks as she can find.